The Path Toward Integrated Marketing Communications in Higher Education
The Path Toward Integrated Marketing Communications in Higher Education


The Path Toward Integrated Marketing Communications in Higher Education

Sep 19, 2018By Mallory Willsea

At mStoner, we believe:

Branding is storytelling. Storytelling is branding. And integrated marketing communications (IMC) is the process through which your stories reach your audiences.

What Is IMC?

Integrated marketing communications is a customer‐centric approach to creating a unified and seamless experience for individuals when they interact with a brand. IMC attempts to meld all aspects of marketing communications so they all work together as a unified force. It is a process designed to ensure that all messaging and communications strategies are consistent across all channels and are centered on your audiences.

Let’s unpack the most important elements of this definition:

  • Customer‐centric approach: Marketing is not about pushing out messages and hoping people will listen. We must understand and develop empathy for the people we are trying to reach — a core principle of IMC.
  • Unified and seamless experience: Everything we’re communicating, across the many channels we use to reach constituents, must dovetail both in promise and in experience.
  • Consistent: IMC, when done correctly, achieves consistency in messaging across all channels.
  • Process: IMC is an ongoing process, not just a one‐off campaign. That process includes strategic planning, measurement, and refinement of communications.

When an organization embraces and implements IMC in the true sense of the definition, everyone benefits. The experience is better for your audiences, brand perception increases, you’ll build more brand trust and loyalty, your communications efforts will be more efficient, and you’ll see a higher return on investment (ROI) for your efforts.

Sounds like exactly what you need and want to do, doesn’t it? So what stops colleges and universities from implementing an IMC approach?

Four Barriers to IMC in Higher Education

Institutions are rarely wired for IMC. The four major barriers to successfully implementing IMC at colleges and universities are:

  1. Strongholds and Silos: Different areas of institutions function independently, with little conversation or collaboration.
  2. Lack of Alignment: If an institution has not gone through the process of articulating its brand and generating internal buy‐in, then different areas won’t know how to represent the institution.
  3. Lack of Systems: Institutions without the proper systems for collecting data, analyzing information, and deploying communications will be hamstrung.
  4. Lack of Understanding: IMC at its best incorporates high‐tech and high‐touch interactions across the institution. It requires marketing to “have a seat at the table” and to be part of the strategic planning process at the highest level. It also requires a new approach to the budgeting process in which the plan dictates the budget. (Usually, budgets are set far before any plans have been made.)

The Path Toward IMC

The six steps of building your brand ideal include:

  1. Discover: Explore your brand ideal.
  2. Clarify: Define your position.
  3. Inspire: Ignite excitement internally.
  4. Align: Integrate actions from inside out.
  5. Unleash: Transform brand through deepened relationships.
  6. Engage: Connect with all audiences.

Institutions need to discover — or, for many, rediscover — their core values and then find the shared space among their audiences’ values and the values that drive the institution. In that shared space exists enormous opportunity for elevating messages beyond statistics, rankings, athletic accomplishments, and other attributes that all institutions can claim.

Once the brand and core values are articulated, the IMC planning process can begin.

According to Don and Heidi Schultz in their book “IMC, the Next Generation,” the five steps in the IMC planning process are:

  1. Identification of customers and prospects.
  2. Valuation of customers and prospects.
  3. Planning on communication messaging and initiatives.
  4. Estimation of return on customer investment.
  5. Post‐program analysis and future planning.

Leveling Up — Connect Storytelling to IMC

If you recall:

Branding is storytelling. Storytelling is branding. And integrated marketing communications (IMC) is the process through which your stories reach your audiences.

Storytelling is imperative if you want to build an enduring brand for your college or university.

If you’re ready to level up, consider mStoner’s Digital Storytelling course. You’ll learn key storytelling principles, concrete planning steps, measurement best practices, and brand‐building principles to ensure storytelling is at the heart of your marketing and communications.

The temptation with IMC, as with storytelling, is to trumpet the concept without embracing and enacting the discipline. Your story — and your brand — are well worth the effort.

  • Mallory Willsea

    Mallory Willsea Director of Marketing and Business Development Proud ENFJ, here! What does that mean for mStoner, besides entertaining colleagues with my wit and charm? I'm a problem-solver and enjoy working through our potential client's challenges to identify solutions and how a partnership with mStoner will bring value.